Just a moment

(Back on the mainland! Will get back to the Asia catch up in my next post, but first, this…)

It’s my last night in the Southern Hemisphere. We’ve just left the Galapagos Islands, where, if we’d faced north and the wind cooperated, we could have spit and just about hit the equator.

Tomorrow morning, pretty much six months to the day we flew from Los Angeles to Sydney, arriving for the first time ever on the under side of the world, I’ll be boarding a plane that will fly me north, north, north, well above the equator, for the final leg of this grand travel adventure.

Aside from how I feel about this flight escorting me to the final chapter of travel, I’m a bit verklempt about leaving this magical hemisphere that’s been gracious enough to share some of its riches with us this half year. Experiencing winter in (what for me is normally) summer, seeing old friends, making new ones, encountering amazing animals up close and personal, learning a bit of Spanish, getting into a deeper groove of traveling with Roman and finding so much to share, to delight in, to laugh over together…

There’s so much to write about, to record before the memories start to slip from my consciousness, but for now I just want to remember this moment of gratitude for the Southern Hemisphere.

¡Gracias y besos!

A wobbly view of the Southern Cross above a store roof in Peru. I’ll miss the southern hemisphere constellations!

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Catching my breath post-Machu Picchu

And here we are in Nazca. We arrived last night after a long, hot bus ride from Arequipa. Machu Picchu, impressive as it is/was, is already fading into an amazing memory. The days have been busy and intense and wonderful with all sorts of stuff and this poor travel journal of mine remains neglected. We have a bit of down time in Nazca so I will make some attempt to get back into the swing of writing/posting.

First the random stuff.

Beginnings

While I was busy elsewhere, the two-year anniversary of my departure date came and went!

Insane but true; it’s over two years now since I said goodbye to Roman (for about three weeks, until he would meet me in Delhi) and the apartment that had become my home with him (most likely forever), and boarded a plane for India, kicking off this amazing adventure we’ve been on!

Last year this time, we were camped out in a lovely little studio apartment in Hong Kong and I managed to put together some video montages in celebration. I’m not nearly that organized or productive this time round, so for now I’ll just repost the videos at the bottom of this entry for anyone who might have missed them the first time, and I’ll say that I do intend to pay proper audio-visual tribute to the countries we’ve visited since then at some point. 🙂

Endings

Equally insane, we have just a bit over two weeks left in South America. We’ll be visiting Lima briefly, then hopping over to Galapagos (!!!!!) for the grand-South-American-trip-finale!!!

Which is exciting but which also means that the final chapter of our big trip is staring us in the face. Which is wonderful and weird. Post South America, we’ll be doing a road trip in the US. Route and timing yet to be figured out.

I imagine we’ll stretch our time in the US out a good amount – there are friends for me to visit and family to hang out with at home (I’ll be there in time for my Grandma & nephew’s birthday parties at the end of the month!) and lord knows there’s tons of amazing places in the States that we’d like to visit. We’ll see how long our time there ends up being.

The end of the road trip in the US will be the end of the BIG TRIP though, which means time to figure out just how exactly to rebuild a stable life in one single location. It’s going to be another adventure no doubt. I’m excited and curious to see how we manage – what the transition from nomadic life will be like, what sort of a home we manage to find/create, what I and/or Roman will do for work… Will leave the musings for now – still plenty to enjoy in South America and loads that I’m excited about for the States. 🙂

Random

DSC 0112

It’s also coming up on six months since we left the States to start part two of the big trip, which means that I’ve gone just about a half a year without a hair cut. I haven’t done anything spectacular with my hair during the trip – just always kept it long enough to tie back. But this must be the longest my hair’s been in ages. I think I like it. 🙂 I won’t post a picture but Roman’s last hair cut was nearly as long ago as my last hair cut and there are days when he’s starting to look like one of the Beatles circa 1964. 😉 I think I like it too! 😉

Machu Picchu

There’s so much to write about Machu Picchu. I’ll save it for another post, another day. Suffice to say: it impressed.

We spent a half day wandering around soaking it in, another day hiking Montaña Machu Picchu (Stairs. So many stairs! Every single step worth it though – the hike will be one of the highlights of the trip for me, no doubt!) and exploring the ruins some more. Here are a few panoramic shots I took of the views from the trail and summit of Montaña Machu Picchu as well as from the ruins. WordPress won’t allow me to embed the images, so you’ll have to click through the links to go to Photosynth’s site to view.

The view about half way up the mountain
You can see Machu Picchu down below in the distance in the right half of the picture

The view from just-about-the-summit
You can see the last bit of steep steps off to the left. Felt on top of the world to be there! Just amazing! 😀

A view from within the ruins

Last year’s videos:

Intro

India

Myanmar (Burma)

Thailand

Laos

Cambodia

Vietnam

Holy cow what an amazing year that was!! 😀

Buenos Aires bookends

Today has been our last full day in Buenos Aires.

A full day – we’ve been going since we got up and there will be an early start tomorrow morning to do the rest of the packing, hand back the keys to our temporary home and go through the process to get onto the plane that will fly us down to Ushuaia.

A full day, sometimes a challenging day, a good day.

A grey day – over cast and sometimes rainy. Which I liked.

Our first week here there was nothing but grey, and it feels fitting that we end our time in BA the way it started. Meteorological bookends to a place. I like the symmetry.

Maybe it sounds dramatic but I guess things are feeling a tad dramatic. I’ve been pretty emotional the past couple of days. It’s not unheard of for me to get all nostalgic about a place as it comes time to leave it on this trip, even as we are still there.

Will we ever see this city again? And it’s been temporarily home and now it’s time to uproot yet again and move once more into the unknown. All that sort of stuff.

But I’ve gotten better at it with time. Especially in this second half of the journey, I’ve been filled with momentum and more tuned in to gratitude and the hunger for more adventure has been sustaining and inspiring me through having to saying goodbye to a place.

But this time round the emotions are in full force. Everything feels more intense as awareness of the end to the big journey increases. As well, this little apartment in Palermo, Buenos Aires, is the longest place Roman and I have had been able to call (temporary) home since we left Zürich a year and nine months ago. And Buenos Aires and I have had to go through a process. From that pretty tough first week when I was really wondering what the heck we were doing here to now, where the city has been transformed in my eyes to a place full of rough beauty and soooo many things I would love to do, if only we had more time…

I am greedy; I always want more. But I am trying to learn how to be satisfied with what is, and so I will just enjoy the symmetry of my rainy days and focus on some details of BA that I’ve savored during my time here, with the addition of the one little rant.

BA – what I hate

Oh my God I hate the dog crap all over the place. It is everywhere and it is awful. You know when you were a kid and you played that game where you couldn’t step on a crack in the street and you’d be jumping all over the place as you walk? It’s like that here except everyone is maneuvering to NOT step on the poo. Some streets are better but some streets are worse and you cannot drop your guard. Some streets stink of it and you have to watch not to accidentally open your mouth ever cause you might just get a mouthful of poop-flavored air. I would rather walk in a cloud of Roman’s second hand cigarette smoke than breathe in poo-air, it’s that awful. Seriously, people of Buenos Aires, do not own dogs if you can’t or won’t pick up after them!!!! It’s just not right.

You see something like this in the street and you know someone’s day just got worse when they walked here….

BA – just some of what I love

Caca de perro was definitely one of the things I noticed first about BA, but thankfully, many other things joined the symphony of the city and managed to do a decent job drowning out that particular “instrument”. Once you get over the poo, or at least get adept at side stepping to avoid it, there are so many lovely details to appreciate. Here are just some of the little things I’ve collected and enjoyed while we’ve been here:

–       There are islands of good smells on the streets to counteract the poo. Small fruit and vegetable shops opening up to the sidewalk and street-side florists with stands bursting full of gorgeous blooms are all over the place and I love walking through the fresh, lovely smells and taking in the burst of bright colors while walking through BA’s streets.

–       Walking home from yoga. I take a different zig-zag to get back just about every time and I love discovering new streets, shops, views each time.

My favorite cobblestone alleyway on the way to/from yoga

–       All the PDA in the street! I love the young couples making out in public. This is still such a thrill for me since Asia is way conservative about that sort of thing and it was so tough for me to have to watch my actions with Roman while we traveled there. I love it that I can kiss, hug or hold hands with him when ever I feel like it, and that other people can – and do! – too.

–       I love the old American and European cars! There are plenty of standard modern cars all over the place but there are also all sorts of rusty gems – Fords, Citroens, Fiats – clunking along the city streets and I think they’re awesome.

–       No pictures of this but I love how the slanty light of mid morning or later afternoon filters through the arched roof of tree branches hanging over the city’s streets. Just gorgeous.

–       I love the street art!
Yes, that’s Alf

–       The awesome old-timey elevators with the accordion doors you have to pull closed before you can ascend/decent. The nifty apartment doorbells. The funky keys.

What a classy doorbell system!

Our apartment key, like some sort of mini steam punk machine gun

–       Cheap and delicious wine!

–       The way the people here sing along with the music in their headphones while walking.

–       Beautiful sunsets from our apartment window.

I’m sure there’s more to add to this list, but it’s bedtime now – tomorrow is a new adventure! Good night folks! 🙂

Here and now plus a bit of BA graffiti

Taking a break from the China catch up for some current events…

It’s our last weekend in Buenos Aires. We’re leaving the city on Friday, for our final destination in Argentina: Ushuaia. I’m really excited for our little foray into Patagonia, and in the mean time I am enjoying the heck out of what’s left of our time in Buenos Aires. We’re having a lovely weekend here with gorgeous spring-like weather and I’m soaking in as much sun and warmth as I can before we plunge into winter: the current temperature in Ushuaia is 3 degrees Celcius, 37 degrees Farenheit. The sun is rising around 10 in the morning these days and there’s a 60% chance of snow tonight. Brr! 🙂

I’m also trying to savor as much as I can in general. We still have a lot of travel ahead of us, but the truth of the matter is that the end of our big trip is starting to loom on the horizon. It’s still months off, but when you’ve been traveling for over a year and a half, a few months (or what ever it will end up being – dates are NOT set in stone) will naturally feel like a significantly smaller portion of time.

At the moment, our utterly amorphous future is a fun place for my mind to wander. Happily, some of the earlier pressures of feeling like I have to “figure it all out” have eased. I’m actually doing a decent job these days of trusting that the future will work out. As a result, daydreaming about what might be is a fun exercise only and in the mean time I’m actually enjoying and showing up for the present in the way I often desire, but seldom manage to. I’m not entirely sure what’s shifted but I’m sure the yoga helps, I imagine the finite timing of the rest of the trip is a factor as well, and I’ll put the rest down to grace. For which I am grateful.

I might write more about all three of those things later on, but in the mean time I want to share about the graffiti tour we went on in Buenos Aires yesterday.

(In fact if my photo card reader wasn’t playing up, I’d share a post-appropriate a picture here that we took of some simple but philosophical graffiti in Salta that said “Usted está aqui y ahora”. In English “You are here and now.” Good to remember. :-))

BA street art!

I’ve been a casual fan of graffiti ever since I wrote an article on it for the sadly now defunct magazine Inside Switzerland. It’s impossible not to notice the graffiti in Argentina in general and specifically in Buenos Aires. It’s a strong and significant part of the country’s art scene as well as it’s political discourse. Plenty has been written on the subject by people much more informed than me. Here are just a few articles if you want a bit more background:

http://maisonneuve.org/blog/2012/03/27/political-legacy-argentinas-graffiti/

http://www.therealargentina.com/argentinian-wine-blog/street-art-in-buenos-aires-so-much-more-than-graffiti/

http://abcnews.go.com/Travel/story?id=7697519&page=1#.T-dIJu2RSfQ

Some of the main points of note about graffiti here – it’s not illegal unless the owner of the property that’s painted on files a written complaint. Graffiti tends towards either the political or the lighthearted – it does not carry a heavy association with crime or vandalism here as it does in some other countries. Politicians actually hire people to paint their names or campaign slogans on buildings or walls. This of course isn’t real graffiti, and many artists focus a lot of their efforts on spreading political commentary of their own on the streets. But a lot of street art is truly art for art’s sake alone. Whimsical and colorful creations can be seen all over the place, and some of the pieces have actually been commissioned by neighborhoods who want to brighten their little corner of BA.

We took a tour yesterday with Graffiti Mundo, a small company that does a lot to support street artists in BA (they’ve just this week opened at a gallery in London and are currently working on a documentary and book). It was a lovely, sunny day to be exploring nooks and crannies of the city, many of them unknown to us. We finished up at the gallery run by the artists (with a handy bar attached), where we got to watch one of the members of the collective bs.as.stncl working on a new piece that is motivated by the current political/financial situation in Argentina – the same thing the protest during our first week here was about. It’s a picture of a mousetrap with US dollars as bait. I’m hoping we’ll see it up on a few walls before we leave the city. 🙂

Here are some pics, from the tour and from other days wandering around BA:

Maradona is everywhere of course. Here he is in La Boca.

La Boca

Graffiti about La Boca in La Boca

Tags in San Telmo

“No Bailarás” – “No dancing”. San Telmo

Murals in Palermo

“La ciudad es de todos” – “The city belongs to everyone”

One of my favorites. 🙂 In San Telmo

Murals in San Telmo

A mural about the forced disappearances during the military junta in the 1970s and 80s

Street art by rundontwalk

Stencil detail

Penguin! 😀

Our tour took us to see a different kind of street art. The artist Marino Santa María has transformed his street with brightly colored tile murals on his and his neighbor’s homes. The artist just happened to be hanging out when we showed up – this is him with our lovely tour guide Cecilia. Barracas.

Street art by bs.as.stncl

New interpretations of Argentinian figures: a gaucho with a double guitar, a rare photo of Che Guevara and a strung out Maradona feature in this piece. I love the detail of the gaucho’s shadow on the sidewalk below.

Elephant stencils

I love this whimsical piece, with grates transformed into boxy bicycle wheels.

A memorial to a friend. Palermo.

Mural. Palermo.

Back at Graffiti Mundo’s studio/bar

An insanely intricate bit of stencil work!

Homesick in BA

We land at Buenos Aires in a shroud of mist and thick, low-slung cloud cover. The streetlights are on by the time we leave the airport; night is drawing in. I struggle against the siren song of jet lag in the darkening back of the cab, trying to keep awake for my first glimpses of the city. Ragged, low buildings along the highway slowly give way to increasingly tall blocks. Eventually we are dipping off the highway, descending into the dark city herself. Roughness and beauty flash by the window in turn; I try to be intrigued but really I am just relieved when we pull up to our apartment building.

A quick exchange with our Airb’n’b host, a grocery run, and a hazy hour or two fighting the urge to nap make up enough of an evening for me. I collapse into sleep. I’m wide awake again around 3am local time. I sit in the living room, waiting for the dawn that takes an age to come. By the time the sun is up, I’m exhausted and realizing that I am feeling awfully homesick.

It doesn’t happen often, but I shouldn’t be surprised that I would feel this way sometimes. I don’t know if it’s the rainy weather, the stark contrast of Argentina (so far) to the exuberant welcome and sunshine, the pristine cities and stunning nature we experienced in Australia and New Zealand. Maybe it’s down to how much time we spent in the cozy homes of friends the past weeks back in Oz and NZ. Or how hard I fell for both these countries.

What ever it is, even though our rented flat is nice and I have nothing really to judge Buenos Aires by at this point, I find myself feeling awfully whiny, getting pissed about stupid stuff and longing for a familiar bed, familiar smells, things I can trust.

It’s ok though. Observing the weather as the plane touched down in BA, I thought to myself, no bother, we have time for good weather to come to us. We’ve rented the flat for five weeks, and we’ll be in Argentina at least that long. No rush.

There’s plenty of time for my homesickness to work itself out, and to gently, without expectation, to get to know this place. There’s no rule that I have to love a place right away, or ever if it comes to that. It doesn’t mean I have to make my initial reaction into a big deal. Mind over matter – just be patient Jenny and see what there is to see. Sometimes doing the thing just involves hanging in there. And no expectations.

We take our first exploratory walk around the neighborhood later that day. Getting out of the apartment, despite the gloomy weather, is a step in the right direction for my head space.

Lonely Planet describes BA as “somehow strangely familiar, but unlike any other city in the world.” There are elements that evoke bits and pieces of other cities to be sure.

The traffic sounds – squeaking breaks, honking horns, wailing sirens – and the ravines of one-way streets below canyons of looming buildings call to mind New York. At moments as we walk through the streets, I’ll catch glimpses of Europe – Paris or Madrid – hologram like, superimposed on the scenes in front of me. The park we pass through is full of tropical trees and smells like a zoo. (Full disclosure: it smells like animal poo). This and the trash on the street bring to mind some of the Asian metropolises we visited. The rough and tumble corrugated iron houses we passed on the way from the airport make me think of India, of Manila.

It’s a new sensation on this big trip of ours too to look the like locals. At this point I’m used to either being in an English-speaking country or sticking out like the obvious tourist. I find myself feeling a bit shy where in Australia and New Zealand I would talk to anyone (cause they would talk to us, easily, openly, effortlessly) – and hoping that Spanish classes will give me a chance to interact with more than an awkward smile. Although Roman (who already knows some Spanish) says that the people here talk SO fast.

It’s also a new experience on this trip to do such a big geographical and cultural jump so fast. We worked our way so slowly through the different shades of Asia; each new flavor providing context for our subsequent destination. And now here we are, from one day to the next, in South America for the first time ever, and my mind is kind of sort of blown.

I’m curious how all these different parts will congeal over the next weeks to form in my mind this new (for me) city in this new country on this new continent. How I will feel about it at the end of our time versus these first jet-lagged days.

Today, after another too-short night of sleep, we woke to the din of heavy rains washing through the soundscape of morning traffic. Even though the weather has only gotten gloomier, my heart is lighter today. The apartment is getting more familiar and it feels nice to have an idea of where we might try and pick up a few things we need when we go for a walk later today. Let’s see if we can’t make this little corner of the world into a home, even if it’s just temporary.

Where we’ve been, where we’re going

Hello blog! Long time, no see!

Roman and I have been busy, busy, busy, filling the last of our time in Australia to the brim, visiting lovely people there and in New Zealand as we had a wee taste test of that gorgeous country, and now we’ve arrived in Argentina (!!). We’ve been here since Saturday evening, and Buenos Aires will be home for the next little bit, our first stop in a short but exciting list of countries we’ll be visiting in South America.

At some point I’ll get back to China, but struggling with those recent entries about Yunnan, written about places we were well over half a year ago, made me realize how the details and atmosphere of an experience start to slip away when I don’t write closer to the actual event. So I’ll start writing about Oz, New Zealand and Argentina as soon as I can, and will fill in about China and the Philippines when the inspiration hits. In the mean time, hello from a cloudy, wet fall day down here in Buenos Aires!

Wait, what??

My last post on this blog was written about a month ago in wintry Connecticut, about our autumnal adventures in the southern hills of China.

A lot of things have happened since then.

There’s been loads going on at home – soul searching and trials by fire within my heart, exciting exploration in the name of future scheming, lots of time spent with beloved family and friends, yoga, yoga and more yoga, travel research and preparation – and while all this has been going on, Spring managed to arrive on the scene. While I’ve been busy, my hometown exploded into full bloom, sunny afternoons, and birdsong. (Morning birdsong is how I was waking up each morning the past week or two – beautiful sounds that transported me, in the comfort of my familiar bed – right back to childhood memories) It’s been absolutely glorious!

All of this important and lovely stuff has kept me engaged in the present and not very keen to look forward. Or, put more accurately, to think about leaving. I’d been decidedly sticking my head in the sand, assuming that we’d figure out some sort of scheme by which I’d get to stay home for longer. However, the expiration date of Roman’s visa began to loom in a most un-ignorable way and forced us to decide and act.

Which is how we’ve some how, suddenly seemingly (to my heart at least), landed here in Sydney, Australia!

We booked a couple of weeks ago (I think – my sense of time is not the best at the moment!) and it’s been a mad dash to prepare in time for our flight plus I’ve also been busy wading through Olympic sized swimming pools of sadness about leaving my family. We flew into Los Angeles on Wednesday to break up the journey, where we had a fantastic overnight visit that ended with us leaving the country with about an hour to spare on Roman’s visa. 😉

15 hours of plane-ride later and we arrived in Sydney, who was gracious enough to welcome us with her best face forward. I had no preconceived notions about the place and really, with everything going on prior to departure, didn’t really think or care much about where we were going. Yet now that we’ve arrived, I’m SO excited and glad that we’re starting part two of the journey here.

We landed on a perfect Autumn day. Warm sun, brilliant blue skies, and that crisp feel of Fall in the air.

Sunrise and a first glimpse of Australia from the plane

After leaving the airport (where we got our first auspicious sign – we got to watch Nestor Carbonell and his family rent a car. 🙂 Even though we’d just been in L.A., we had to come to Australia to see a famous actor…), we headed straight to the prime tourist spot where we’re spending our first couple of nights: the Rocks. This part of Sydney seems spotlessly clean, at least what we’ve seen so far, and absolutely stunning with a lovely mix of older, colonial buildings in lovely shades of brown and beige countered by impressively sleek modern skyscrapers. All the urbanity is off set by fantastically massive, tropical trees of the many parks in the area and the amazing and iconic harbor at Circular Quay.

We ended up spending most of the day wandering around on foot and discovering delight after delight. Sydney seemed determined to offer us a spectacular welcome. 🙂

Incredible tropical birds, a massive cruise ship parked across from the opera house, an open-air artisan market, fantastic musicians performing Spanish guitar under an overpass, our first didgeridoo performance, delicious food, peaceful parks stunning scenery.

These funny looking guys were hanging around scrounging for food the way pigeons would in New York or Zurich. Anyone know what they're called?

Love was in the air in the city the day we arrived too; we must have seen three or four hen parties cruising the town and countless wedding parties having their photos taken in front of the city’s iconic spots, boarding ships at the Quay for a celebration on the water; there was even one party taking place AT the Opera House. All this added to the magical atmosphere for me and I’m so grateful for this welcome, which has eased the heartache of leaving home and gotten me completely juiced for Part Two of our Big Adventure!

Obviously at this point there is a LOT to catch up on. 🙂 I’ll be doing a combo of posts going forward – filling in all that we did in Asia, bits and pieces about our time in the States and more current events now that we are here in the Land Down Under. Hopefully one of these months this online journal will be up to speed… 🙂

Snap shots from my parents’ home

The holidays are now behind us and we are well and fully landed in the New Year over here in Connecticut. It’s still feeling somewhat surreal but it’s helping that things are quieting down a bit. Only now is it starting to really sink in that I am here with Roman in my hometown.

It’s too early for me to be able to deliver news about our onward plans for anyone who might be curious. 🙂 (I’m curious too in fact!) For now I’m mostly focusing on savoring the comforts of home:

–       It’s a great feeling not to have to pack up my bag every few days/every week. I have shelves in my old room where my clothes can stay put for now and that is awesome.

–       I love that my pillow smells like me.

–       Western plumbing is still blowing my mind and I have to remind myself at least once a day that I can put toilet paper into the toilet bowl over here.

–       My mom has been really generous with my use of her kitchen; we even have figured out how to cook two different things simultaneously without getting in each other’s way. I am loving being able to cook my own food again, and it’s total comfort to cook with my mom and better yet to be treated to her cooking.

–       I can’t get enough Martin hugs!! Hugs from my nephew are a rare but oh-so-deliciously-wonderful-and-precious thing.

–       It’s great having time to talk with my grandma Jackie. At 90 she’s more awesome than ever!

–       Although Stamford has changed a lot since I’ve lived here and there’s loads of new restaurants and shops, etc., it’s still a nice feeling to leave the house (instead of a hotel) and already know where I’m going without having to study a Lonely Planet map first.

–       Same goes for being able to take an aimless walk with Roman without having to worry about finding our way back to the hotel.

–       The best feeling is falling asleep all cozy warm under layers of my mother’s home-made blankets and quilts while the freezing winter air creeps in through the cracked-open window – I am loving the New England winter weather after all the tropical heat in the Philippines. All I need is some snow!! 🙂

A Christmas surprise!

This blog has fallen silent yet again but for a good reason. After what felt like an infinite number of mediocre plane movies and meals and too many hours to count I arrived in New York on Sunday. I’d barely been on the ground before I checked my email and got a huge surprise.

If you keep track of Roman’s blog (and can read German), you already know that he had a change of heart, decided he needs a break, and booked the first flight he could from Kuala Lumpur to the States!

I picked him up from the airport on Wednesday and it’s still feeling totally surreal and miraculous and wonderful that after all these months of travel in exotic lands, we are both HERE in my childhood home, back with my family as though we’d been here all along. 🙂

In my earlier post I wrote about being greedy and loving or wanting too many things. Now I feel like the luckiest girl ever because I get to have Christmas (my favorite holiday!) with all my favorite people! It’s not an either/or situation and it’s already feeling like the best Christmas ever! 😀 I’m feeling tremendously grateful. 🙂

Now that my brain is just about adjusted to the EST time zone and the fact that Roman is actually here, I’ll try to get going on my China posts again. And in the mean time, happy holidays to everyone from one very happy girl! 🙂

Thai Island Dream: Part 6 (Ko Lipe, learning to dive)

Time line 4

Ko Lipe is surrounded by a group of islands that form the protected Ko Tarutao Marine National Park. It’s meant to be some incredible nature and we’d had plans to hire a long tail and go exploring, but Roman enjoyed the dive intro on the Aquila so much that he came up with a suggestion: Why not get certified?

Lipe has a good number of dive shops that have Lonely Planet’s stamp of approval, so we decided to go for it, and we signed up for the PADI Open Water Diver course the next day. I’ve added “Seeing the Tarutao National Park” to my to-do list for the next time we go on vacation in Thailand, but the diving was such a phenomenal experience; I have no regrets about saving the park for next time. 🙂

We ended up diving with a shop called Ocean Pro. Chilled out but professional, and if all their instructors are as good as the one we learned with then I can recommend them hands down. Rebecca was our teacher, a very cool chick from NYC of all places. She was informative but very fun and knew tons about the fantastic marine life we got to see in and around the coral reefs we dived at. We also bonded over the time we’d both spent working in the in the finance industry making the money to fuel our dreams. 🙂

Learning to trust the breath

The first time I went diving was back in 2002. Getting over a hard break up I decided to shake things up and do something completely new, so I took myself on a short island vacation to Aruba. Following the “be adventurous” theme, I signed up for one of those hotel one-day dive packages, where you learn the ropes in the pool in the morning and then do a simple dive in relatively shallow waters in the afternoon.

It sounds basic, and it is, but for me it was a big deal, because I’ve got a bit of a fear of drowning. I’m not sure where this might come from, but not being able to breathe really frightens me, more so than the normal person. I was fine during the pool practice, but I started to freak out as soon as my head went under the ocean water in the afternoon and I began hyperventilating.

Luckily the instructor saw me and was able to “talk me down” using eye contact and sign language. What happened then was amazing. Using my mind and my breath I was able to calm down enough until the wonder of the dive – the amazing feeling of floating through the water as though I were flying and the excitement of seeing beautiful fish in their natural habitat – overtook and completely replaced all of the irrational but massive fear I had been experiencing.

Power of the breath

Holding to and working consciously with breath is something I learned even more about as I began and developed my yoga practice shortly thereafter. It’s something that is so simple and yet so powerful; it never ceases to amaze me when I can reconnect to it.

It was therefore really interesting for me to come back to diving after my first experience years ago and after all the practice with breath work that I’ve had from yoga. In fact in some ways certain things were actually harder for me – yoga breathing is primarily through the nose and of course when you’re diving everything is through the regulator in your mouth, so I had to overcome some well-ingrained habits.

But it was fascinating and fun to see how big of effect conscious breathing has on diving. The amount to which you can regulate your depth or the amount of oxygen you use is astounding. It was especially eye-opening to me when I was diving with an underwater camera (this was after we’d completed our certification) – I was distracted by taking photos and didn’t pay attention to my breath at all and I went through my air twice as fast!

Dive fans

The course was pretty full on (the days started early and were full of painfully dorky PADI videos, above and underwater practice, independent study and practice quizzes until it was time to sleep) but fun, and we loved the dives so much that we signed up to join a fun dive (means that the crew would set up and clean up your gear for you and you can just show up 🙂 ) bright and early the next day and ended up diving at three different sites.

We didn’t see any big critters under water, but the reefs around the islands were just teeming with life. As soon as your head is under the surface (or sometimes even before!), there’s not a direction you can look where you wouldn’t see something interesting. Puffer fish, clark’s anemone fish, sting rays, trigger fish (some that tried to attack me! 🙂 ), clown fish (the Nemo fish, in case you didn’t know that already 😉 ), porcupine and goat fish, ornate ghost pipe fish, fancy looking lion fish, poisonous and camouflaged scorpion fish, eels, sea slugs and cucumbers – the list goes on. And the anenome and coral were gorgeous and fascinating too!

We couldn’t get enough of watching it all, and we definitely plan to make diving a part of the rest of our trip, depending on location and budget. 🙂

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Dive plan Rebecca drew up for one of the fun dives

We got to use Rebecca’s underwater camera one day. I have a lot to learn about underwater photography yet – the pics aren’t great, but here are some of them anyhow. 🙂 Full disclaimer: Most of the pics have been pretty heavily doctored in iPhoto to try to get the colors to match my memory…

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Can you find Nemo? 🙂

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Sea squirts – This particular version are one of my favorites, they are so pretty and such an amazing color in real life

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Porcupine fish

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Eels

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Can you see the scorpion fish in this photo?

Other random stuff
Just for myself, I want to remember:
– how amazing the sunsets were on Ko Lipe. Some of the most colorful and stunning we saw in all of Thailand, with the sky and ocean reflecting a ever-changing rainbow of pearly pastels at each other until the sun got low enough to turn it all to purple-grey.
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This is a photo of the least pretty sunset we saw on the island – and the only one I had my camera with me for. 😉

– the bizarre incident of breaking up the fight we happened upon as we walked back to our hotel one night, and how the Indian guy, Joseph, who was outnumbered and definitely getting his butt kicked, was happy when he finally found us a couple of days later to say thank you.
– the hilariously unenthusiastic and pathetic karaoke that was going on at the hotel down the street from ours. Hotel California with the words half remembered, sung by a guy who couldn’t even be bothered (or maybe was too ashamed?) to get up from his table. Cracked me up. 🙂